Team Comes Together to Help First NODA Patient

As an array of life support monitors beeped and blinked in the background, Liz Zoller sat by the side of an unconscious, dying patient, and decided to softly hum a favorite hymn. Within moments she watched with awe as the monitors’ frantic beeping slowed, and the patient’s facial muscles clearly started to relax.noda2 

Liz, an administrative support specialist for Med/Surg, was one of several NorthBay employees who volunteered to take turns sitting at the gentleman’s side, as part of a new NorthBay program called “No One Dies Alone.” The program places trained volunteers at the bedside of patients who are dying and need companionship and support in their final days.

Training for the brand-new volunteer program had only just concluded, according to Patty Kramer, director of Supportive Care Services, when she learned there was an ICU patient who was dying and had no family members present. This would mean the first deployment of NorthBay’s NODA team, and with the help of Odessa Lopez, administration support specialist, an e-mail alert went out to the volunteer list. Four who were available stepped up to help when the patient was transferred from NorthBay Medical Center’s ICU to Med-Surg about a month ago.

Patty, along with Shelley Johnson, R.N., director of Med/Surg Services, decided to organize the NODA program after witnessing a heartbreaking case some time back. A young mother was dying of cancer, and her only support — her mother — couldn’t visit much because she had to care for the children. “The young woman was scared and very anxious,” Patty recalls. “She didn’t want to be left alone, and had all these tactics to keep nurses, social workers – anyone - in her room.” While her NorthBay caregivers did all they could, they had to attend to their jobs. “We could have really used NODA for her then,” Patty says.

NorthBay’s NODA program is modeled after a national one Patty learned of while attending a case management conference. “The idea is to be a compassionate presence,” she says, and that is what Liz Zoller knew her physical presence and soft humming were providing the patient. “When I walked in the room and saw him, I saw my brother, my father, my best friend. I knew it was important to sit with this person because I would want someone to sit with my family.”

There are just under 20 NorthBay employees who have completed the two-hour NODA training, and by doing so they have agreed to be “on call” —  and on their own time —  to simply sit with patients, or to read from a book or poetry, to play music, or hold their hand, to offer comfort and companionship in an hour of need. 

“Our group of volunteers represents the spectrum of employees at NorthBay,” Patty says. “Some work with patients all the time, and others have very little patient contact as part of their primary job.”

While the charter group of volunteers is not large enough to provide 24/7 support, Patty says, she hopes more will sign up as word spreads about the program, and with additional training scheduled for later this year.

“I encourage people to look into their heart and see if this is something they can do,” says Liz. “Our lives are busy with work and children, but what’s an hour? Whatever you can give to be at someone’s side when they are alone and dying will mean so much.”

A new training schedule will be determined soon. To find out more about the program, contact Odessa at 646-4315, or email her at